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Eco-Answers from the Pros: Recommendations for Conifer Screening

I’m struggling to find a good resource for conifers and cultivars that are well suited for a Maine landscape. I would like to plant evergreens for a privacy screening that doesn’t get above twenty feet. Could you recommend any good reference books with plenty of images? Would you recommend planting strictly native evergreens rather than other cultivars from other parts of the world?

Check out the American Conifer Society: Official Website  and for books, here are three that I use:

Conifers for Gardens: An Illustrated Encyclopedia 

Gardening with Conifers Second Edition

The Royal Horticultural Encyclopedia of Conifers in Two Volumes 

The good thing about these books is that they show some cultivars that may have a different growth rate, shape, color, etc that work better for what you want.  

 For height – you will need an “intermediate” growth rate cultivar of a conifer.  That means that it will not really exceed the 20′ height in our lifetime.  You can also prune the conifer to reduce the annual growth rate by a method of pruning called Candling. You can search Youtube for videos on candling conifers.

 You want to figure out what conifers can survive in your Zone first, then pick the cultivar that has the growth rate you want/ need.  I hope this helps!  

~ Christie Dustman  Christie Dustman & Company, Inc. Roslindale MA

Arborvitae hedge with drapey spider web.

The first thing you must think about is where in Maine you plan to install your privacy screening. The hardiness zones range very widely in Maine, from 6A in the southern coastal areas, to 3B in northern areas. If you are not familiar with plant hardiness zones, this link will get you started USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map – Cooperative Extension: Garden & Yard. Check your location and the hardiness zone—this will dictate the evergreen trees you can successfully use.

Another thing about Maine is that, compared with other US states, it is quite remote for the plant nursery industry, having only one border contiguous with another state (New Hampshire). This means that shipping plants from wholesale nurseries in more southerly states up into Maine can be difficult. In Maine, obtaining plants raised in nurseries located within the state is the most accepted way to source your plants.

This can actually make it easier for you to choose appropriate plants! I would strongly suggest you check with plant nurseries located near where you plan to plant your screen. For a list of nurseries near you, this link is helpful  Home – MELNA. Ask them for advice.

In Maine, it is often best to select native species that will tolerate the variable conditions. Most probably, you will find that a compact, columnar, or dwarf variety of white pine; black, white, or blue spruce; balsam fir; or eastern arborvitae is available at your Maine nursery and will work for your screen. (One note: arborvitae are a favorite of deer so if you have those, you may wish to choose a different tree.) I strongly suggest your evergreens be planted in a staggered-pattern row, and not in a straight line like soldiers! The staggered design is much more pleasing to the eye.

For visual images, the online Plant Library at Weston Nurseries (not a Maine nursery, but a great general resource) is very good Weston Nurseries Plant Finder – Boston Hopkinton Chelmsford Massachusetts MA

~ Amanda Sloan RLA, Raingarden Design Studio, Sharon, MA


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